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How big is your plate?

Various size plates

This blog post was written by Steph from Bordering on the Brink of Insanity.

“What on earth are you talking about, Steph??” I hear you all ponder. Do you struggle with feelings of inadequacy and guilt that you aren’t doing ‘enough’, or beat yourself up because you see people doing 10 times more than you are able to manage in a day? See all the people you went to school with growing up, getting married, having children, a career and all the things we are told we ‘should’ be striving towards and achieving by a certain age?

Well? Me too. Feeling that way is really soul destroying and please know you are not alone. Not only is it very common for people with mental illnesses to be unable to do as much with their day and lives as they would like to, but also for most of us to feel shit about that!

So, as you probably guessed from the very cryptic title… I am going to talk to you about plates.

We’ve all heard people refer to their hectic/stressful lives as ‘having a lot on their plate’ but I never recognised that it really can be helpful to think of our lives in that way.

In life we have a selection of various different sizes of plates to utilise, right? There are dinner plates, there are massive sharing platters, there are little saucers, and many sizes in between.

What I am realising is that we all have different sized metaphorical plates, and this is because we are all born and created differently. Whether it’s due to brain chemistry, genetics, environment, upbringing or numerous other things, it causes our lives to become varying sizes of plates.

Some (and I am going to assume that most people consider this ‘the norm’) have an average dinner plate sized capacity for ‘life-ing’. I feel that it is kind of what is considered by society as the ‘goal’ of adulthood. Standard full time job – either career or just paying the bills, a kid or 2, holidays once a year, sharing household stuff with your significant other, etc etc etc, you get where I am going!

Some have what I would consider a sharing platter sized capacity for ‘life-ing’. Y’know those people who are on the go ALL the time like the energizer bunny? All of the above, plus some form of education and the coursework that involves, helping out charities or events, running after school clubs or being one of the ‘volunteer parents’, and still somehow manage to find the energy to ‘do lunch’ or grab a coffee with friends. Basically I’d call this a sharing platter because they are doing more than enough stuff for at least 2 people with dinner plates and multiple people with smaller plates.

Then there are the people with an individual sandwich plate sized capacity for ‘life-ing’. These people find it more of a struggle to achieve the ‘goal’ of adulthood that I described above. They have less energy and have to utilise their time with more consideration than someone with a bigger plate. They may work part-time or be unable to work at all but might do some form of volunteer work, if they have children, most of their energy has to be reserved for them, they might not be able to do any of the above at all. This, I suppose, is the size of my personal plate most of the time, I think!

Some, probably more so than we realise, are chugging along with a saucer sized capacity for ‘life-ing’. These people might find life extremely hard, have very little energy and have to really carefully choose what things need or deserve their time the most. They might not be able to volunteer, and if so, not very often, they might be able to do some housework or might be able to go for a coffee, or perhaps just showering leaves them at full capacity for the day.

It is also possible to have days where your plate size might change from bigger to smaller. But I would like to state with almost 100% certainty that no matter how big your plate is, EVERYONE, looks at everyone else, wondering why they can’t do as much as ‘that’ person. Even the sharing platter people probably have days where they wish they just had a dinner plate because things just get too much.

What we all forget, and I am a massive culprit of this, is that we are ALL different, and what is considered the ‘societal norm’ of a dinner plate isn’t achievable for many people, especially those with debilitating mental or physical illnesses.

Either we were born with our individual plate size, or for some, life events, our environment, how we are raised, and our circumstances can change our plate size. Some are born with a certain size and that is the one they take through their whole life with them.

But no matter how big or small yours is, we are all looking to each other and judging if we personally are doing ‘enough’. But there is no such thing as a universal standard of ‘enough’ because you have very little control over the size of your plate.

You can’t make it bigger, therefore you can only fill it with as much as it will fit. Life might seem like a buffet and sometimes it kind of is, but unfortunately if you start piling your plate too high you are going to end up feeling pretty sick, or you will simply just drop stuff.

I never know when I am taking an analogy/metaphor too far… just gonna go ahead and run with it! I have watched House too many times!

Life can take some nasty turns and exchange people’s plates for smaller ones than they are willing to accept; they start to compare their plates and the items on it with other people’s even more, and often with their own former larger plated capacity as well. Frustration builds and leads to depression, which can ultimately cause our plates to shrink even further as we begin to feel guilty, pointless and useless.

‘How can they find the time and energy to take their kids to all these fun activities, while my kids are stuck at home in the garden with loads of toys and their imagination? I am the worst parent in the world’

‘I can no longer work, therefore I must be useless. I am not doing enough, this is not good enough’

‘All I could manage today was a shower, then I got into fresh PJs and got back into bed. Exhausted. I’m pathetic.’

‘All I managed to do today was fight and resist the loud voices in my head telling me to end my life. I spent the day sleeping and colouring. Why am I fighting those voices? They’re right, I should end my life, I’m completely useless.’

If any of these quotes/thoughts resonate with you or sound familiar, you aren’t alone. We beat ourselves up for the level of life-ing our mental illness/physical illness is restricting us to, instead of recognising that plate sizes are so individual that even the sizes I have talked about barely exist. Even two people with the exact same illnesses have different plate sizes, because guess what??

Every single one of us.
The size of our plates completely reflect that.

Whatever you can do IS enough, because our plates are GIVEN to us, we get no choice for the most part. What you are doing is what your individual capacity allows, and that is truly okay!

It’s okay because you know that if yours was bigger you would damn sure be filling it up more, and nobody else is YOU, therefore nobody else has the exact same stuff going on that has contributed to the size of your plate. Nobody else can see what is going on in your head or with your body (or both).

Only YOU can see exactly what is going on, and for exactly that reason you need to give yourself a break.

Once you have given yourself a break it’s easier to see what is important, what needs to be prioritised and what can be put off for another day. If you do too much you are both metaphorically and literally likely to get unwell.

We all know that if we could make our plates bigger, we would. We aren’t lazy (no matter what our heads or ignorant people say), we aren’t useless. We are simply doing our very best to wisely and mindfully fill the size of the plate that we have been given on any particular day.

Also, just to slip this in here, those people with the sharing platters get exhausted too. They can get burnt out, simply because we are only one person, and whilst some can and do successfully do the amount of two or more people, they also need to recognise when its time to grab a dinner plate instead. Yes I know I said we can’t choose our plate size but we CAN voluntarily opt for a smaller plate for a little while, if we can recognise that it is acceptable to do so. But making that choice also tends to be tough and guilt ridden.

Seriously, none of us are immune to that stupid guilt a-hole.

ACCEPTANCE is vital, and Little Miss Hypocrite over here also needs to also work on this!

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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